By now, it should have occurred to many American and Israeli Jews that the animosity of the last decade between Democrats and Israel has less to do with the personalities of Obama, Trump and Netanyahu and much more to do with the policy positions of the Democrats and Israel, even consensus positions within Israel. Since the media obsessively and simplistically focuses on elections, horse races and gossip, it was simple to conclude that the problem of the Democrats with Israel was that Netanyahu got along poorly with Obama, publicly opposed him during the negotiations of the disastrous Iran deal, and famously supported (and all but endorsed) Mitt Romney and Donald Trump. That is true but facile and misleading.
The simple truth is that the policies of the Democratic Party towards the State of Israel have tended to be hostile – although not relentlessly or unequivocally so – for more than a decade. Gone are the days of Scoop Jackson and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The traditional supporters of Israel in the Democrat leadership – people such as Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer – are anachronisms. They are both octogenarians whose influence rests in their official titles but are increasingly powerless in the face of the young, new Democrat radicals on whom the media fawns. This despite the fact, or perhaps because of it, that some of them dabble quite openly in Jew hatred and Israel bashing.
There are exceptions – New York’s Ritchie Torres is one, the widespread support for Israel’s Iron Dome defense is another – and AIPAC labors mightily to sustain the myth that Israel has bipartisan support in Congress. The myth has some value, as it does remind people of what once was, but it also discourages people from exploring why it is no longer the case. It is especially troubling that the Jew-baiting and Israel-hating that emerges from these young Democrats, almost all from ethnic minorities, is essentially glossed over. There is no price to be paid for verbally attacking Jews and Israel with the most outrageous and repugnant canards.
The proof of the real problem is that even the political demise (temporary or not) of Binyamin Netanyahu has not changed anything. The Bennett government, especially FM Lapid, has put much stock in trying to rebuild relations with the Democratic Party. But nothing has really changed and the real problem should be dawning on every sentient person.
There are Democrats, bad people, who disparage Israel as a racist, apartheid state, in utter contradiction to the truth. (By the way, they don’t think much of America, either.) But there are many more Democrats, not bad people, who perceive themselves as supporters of Israel – but only of a certain kind of Israel. They love the Israel that is docile and doesn’t respond to terrorist attacks and provocations, as if Jewish blood is cheap and Jews must always turn the other cheek. They love the Israel that is always offering territorial concessions, the Israel that embraces the land-for-peace travesty and the two-state delusion. They love the Israel that feels itself subservient to America, as if a sovereign nation surrounded by some hostile countries in an aggressive part of the world always has to ask permission of the United States before it promotes its own interests or defends its citizens. They love the Israel that accepts American assistance and then insists that Israel bends to their dictates. They love the Israel that is not very Jewish in practice or character but in name only, and that acts only on the biblical values that the world endorses but never on the Bible itself.
They do not love the Israel that sees itself as the fulfillment of the divine prophecies of exile, return and redemption. They do not love the Israel that seeks to incorporate all aspects of the Torah into modern governance and statecraft. They do not love the Israel that perceives Judea and Samaria as the biblical heartland of Israel granted by G-d to our forefathers and their descendants, and whose territorial integrity is therefore inviolable. They do not love a proud, defiant, strong, independent Jewish Israel.
That is the root of the dissonance. We should therefore not be surprised when those Democrats, led by Joe Biden who loves theIsrael of his own concoction and has long lambasted the real Israel (in private, and going back to Menachem Begin’s time), demand that Israel not build in Judea and Samaria for Bidenhas determined that the biblical heartland of Israel must be the location of a second Palestinian state. Jews cannot build in Judea, of all places, but Arabs can build in both Arabia and Judea.
Nor should we be surprised that Biden seeks to reverse the United States’ recognition of Yerushalayim as Israel’s undivided capital by opening there a Palestinian consulate. Nothing will undermine Israel’s sovereignty there more than the US, followed by dozens of other countries, opening consulates there for foreign entities. It is an insult that is meant to be an insult, something the US would never do to any self-respecting nation. This is not just Biden following the political course he has adopted since taking office –reverse whatever Trump did, even if it is good for America and the world. (Only a clueless Joe could blame OPEC for spiking oil prices by not increasing oil production and ignore his own role in drastically cutting American oil production soon after he took office.) This is Biden acting on his Democratic bona fides, loving a certain type of weakened Israel but sticking it to the real Israel that exists and thrives.
Can the Israel-Democrat relationship be restored? Probably not in the short term and definitely not in the long term. Long-term, the Democratic Party base is shifting to ethnic minorities who are less Western, less Christian, and less white, and who detest Israel as a religious, nationalist, colonialist outpost of white interlopers. Such, of course, is not the reality, but then again, these are the people who maintain that every person or group is allowed to create its own reality. Today’s Democrats prioritize diversity over wisdom, truth, talent, values and aptitude. This might change but it is hard to see how or why it would change.
In the short term, if American Jews and Israelis do not realize one fundamental truth about the United States today, the consequences will be most deleterious: America is not a reliable ally. It has its own interests but even those now routinely change sharply with each new administration. There is no foreign policy consensus in America, only competing views, and some of those competing views are diametrically opposed to each other.
America will speak kindly about its purported allies and friends but then act in its own interest anyway. America can demand that Israel act against its own sovereign interests, but those who think that America will defend Israel when those policies fail should have a talk with the former leaders of Afghanistan and Vietnam. The historian Bernard Lewis said years ago that “America is harmless as an enemy and treacherous as a friend.” Neither is completely true but there is more substance to this assertion than not. Israel’s response to these American demands should be a resolute and categorical “no.” It need not be a public repudiation but it needs to be a “no.”
Thus Israel should reject – as is our right – the opening of a Palestinian Consulate in Yerushalayim. And if the US in turn threatens to open an embassy in Ramallah (implying recognition of statehood) rather than a consulate in Yerushalayim, so be it. Under current conditions, it is bound to happen anyway in time. Such would be the treachery of a friend. Let their ambassador live in Ramallah.
Similarly, Israel should continue to build in Judea and Samaria, period. And with all the threats of dissolving the coalition coming from Meretz, Ra’am or Labor, it is time to realize that there are enough right-wing members of the government who can also make threats. There is leverage on all sides. The right-wingers should use that leverage or be shunned in the future.
The attempted reconciliation between Israel and the Democrats is a worthy objective per se but should not blind us to the realities that are staring us in the face. This discord is not a clash of personalities. It is a clash of policies, values and world view. We can minimize the effects of the tension but as long as Israel is a sovereign nation, it will not go away. One way to minimize it is by not acting precipitously or fearfully, cognizant that Biden has so much now on his plate that he is unable to manage competently that Israel is not really a priority. That too is Israel’s advantage.